A quick primer about privilege. I did stir up a hornet’s nest on Facebook yesterday. I don’t like the way the term is used today. Here’s the chain of reasoning used to arrive to there:
1. Let’s define the word. Privilege, in this context, is a competitive advantage in life that is not meritoriously earned.
2. As a result of this, many types of privilege exist. Inherited Wealth. Family political connections. Gender. Height. Health and good genetics. Looks. Race. Inherited talents. The country you were born in. Etc…
3. The network of interlocking privileges, or advantages, is so complex that using a group privilege, or advantage, doesn’t work when applied to an individual. In other words, Whites may generally get a better shake of things in most Western countries. That doesn’t mean that specific White person over there is, net-net, privileged over a specific non-White person.
4. Follow this example. President Obama’s children have wealth, inherited political connections and fame that they did not earn. They got it by virtue of being Obama’s children, i.e. they didn’t meritoriously earn it. Compared to the White redneck kids, living on welfare in the trailer park, they are privileged, net-net. Of course, that is assuming all else is equal, which it never is (this is the whole point I’m trying to make). What would happen if Obama’s children were disabled? Pretty soon, this sort of thing becomes a futile exercise, but hopefully you see the point.
5. Since every single human is a combination of meritoriously earned traits, and traits they were just born with (or were given freely), it becomes functionally impossible to make everything “fair.” You can’t benchmark this, either. We don’t have units of measurement to understand how much privilege a person has.
6. That does NOT excuse being racist, sexist, etc… In fact, if anything, it puts the onus on individuals to consider their own behavior and take responsibility for their own actions as individuals. In other words, if you recognize someone has had a bad shake of things due to circumstances outside their control, maybe you should stop and see if there’s a way you can give that person a way out of their circumstance. It’s not always possible, and people won’t always take you up on it, but no story is greater than the that of the individual who OVERCAME disadvantages with the help of good, honorable people.
7. Ending privilege is impossible. Everybody would have to be clones of one another to do it (that would not be desirable). But some advantages are the result of bad people doing bad things, and people ought to recognize this and do something about it when they can. Besides, there is a purely selfish reason this is important, to: If you’re writing off groups of people, or even subtly discriminating against them, you’re missing out on potential talent, friends, associates, coworkers, etc… Best to keep an open mind.
So, after all this, if you tell me Whites tend to get a better shake in America, and want to call that White privilege… okay. I’ll accept it as a high-level generalization. But do not apply it to the individual. Realize the limits of your model. Thousands of other factors go into who got “lucky” in life. Don’t come to me and say “Check your privilege” because there are so many privileges in the world that people cannot possibly know all the ones that do or do NOT apply to me, as an individual. Such thinking is the height of arrogance, and is dismissive of people’s experiences in life.
Even if you are given that privilege by some people, not everyone will give it to you. In certain circumstances, among certain people, being White is detrimental, or neutral, even if, overall, it is probably net-positive. The reverse can be true, too. A non-White may be given privilege in certain circumstances even if, at a high-level, it may be a treated as a negative. The same goes for rich people. Most of the time it is positive, but there are certain, specific cases where it is decidedly dangerous to be a rich guy. Imagine being a stockbroker walking through an Occupy protest.
And lastly, realize that everyone reading this post is privileged over others. You have a computer. You Internet. Food. Electricity. Running Water. Compared to some of the crapholes in the world, you are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.
Read the book Harrison Bergeron sometime.